Opinion |

Superman to Fans and Devil to Rivals, Larger-than-life Netanyahu Is, in Truth, Pathetic

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the press on February 28, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the press on February 28, 2019.Credit: AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Benjamin Netanyahu is larger than life. To his fans, Netanyahu is the one and only, defender of the land, hero of the people, scourge of the left, polished statesman, gifted orator, wily politician and, as of late, persecuted martyr. To his detractors, Netanyahu is the prince of darkness, enemy of peace, destroyer of democracy and, as of late, a common criminal willing to bring the house down to escape the long arm of the law. 

Between the all-powerful superman and the devil in disguise, however, there is Netanyahu the man, of flesh and blood. Between the adoration of the right and the antipathy of the left, he can be viewed, from a detached vantage point, as nothing less than pitiful. His weaknesses overpower his strengths. His fears erode his self-confidence. He is haunted by the demons in his mind, a victim of his own paranoia. Even if he wins the April 9 elections, and much sooner if he loses, Netanyahu’s long and illustrious career is doomed to end in degradation and shame.

Of all the misdeeds detailed in the attorney general’s indictment of Netanyahu last week, the scene that sticks out in my mind is that of Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan visiting him in his home, bearing gifts of champagne and cigars, spurring Netanyahu to call former Secretary of State John Kerry to lobby for his benefactor’s visa.  

Certainly not the worst of the deeds ascribed to him, the incident nonetheless shows Netanyahu at his worst: A notorious tightwad with an irrepressible lust for luxury, a representative of the people addicted to the offerings of billionaires, a prime minister who can no longer discern between right and wrong, honest and corrupt, between conduct becoming his august office and the breach of trust of which he now stands accused.

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Netanyahu’s moral myopia feeds his frustrations. With his diminishing sense of self-awareness, Netanyahu views the criminal proceedings against him as wicked, unwarranted and motivated by hostile interests. The criticism that his predecessors learned to tolerate has turned into an obsession that is poisoning his soul. He boasts of his close ties to Trump and Putin but blows a gasket from the disapproving words of Israeli pundits and commentators. He breathes the air of the high and mighty but insists on wrestling his rivals and critics down in the dirty mud.

Netanyahu mocks the claim that his clandestine contacts with co-conspirator and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes or his documented intervention on behalf of communications and media czar Shaul Alovitch shows that he can be bribed with promises of positive press coverage. Day in and day out, however, he proves the exact opposite. He devotes the lion’s share of his statements and speeches to savage onslaughts against the same media he is supposedly indifferent to. In the public arena, he portrays the media as a multi-armed octopus that guides and is guided by the traitorous left and expects us to believe in the legal realm, he just doesn’t care.

Netanyahu portrays the criticism he sustains and the legal hurdles he faces as a manhunt. He is the innocent fox pursued by bloodthirsty hunters being led by media hounds. In his mind, Netanyahu is surrounded by haters who are out for his head and by kowtowers who secretly pray for his early departure. At the end of the day, after he finishes inflaming the masses with the self-righteous resentment that burns inside, Netanyahu comes home, isolated and bitter, to face the rage that consumes his family, which only stokes his sense of impotence.

Somewhere along the way to the here and now, Netanyahu passed the point of no return. His ego vanquished his judgment, his self-victimization marred his satisfaction from his high office, the foam of his fury boiled over and threw him into constant rage. His self-serving quest for survival and revenge compelled Netanyahu to drag Israel into a bitter and divisive election campaign, which could tear his beloved Israel to pieces. Sooner or later, he will meet his inevitable destiny: To depart the stage of history not as an esteemed statesman but as a scorned and dejected little man, a hero-villain of a tragedy he wrote all by himself.  In a word - pathetic.

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